May 2015 Blindspot: Breathless – À bout de souffle (1960)

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One of the fun things about participating in this Blindspot series is to familiarize myself with certain genre or film movement. I actually picked this one rather randomly, not realizing this was part of the French New Wave, which happens to be the renowned French auteur Jean-Luc Godard‘s first feature film.

Films set in the City of Lights are always welcome in my book, and this one looks absolutely spectacular in black and white. I find myself paying more attention to the gorgeous city than reading the subtitles, but it seems the filmmaker seems deliberately more concerned more about the presentation than its narrative. Breathless is unabashedly stylish and cool – chock full of gorgeous scenery, good looking people and chic Parisian fashion.

Jean Seberg is simply adorable in her pixie cut and cat-like eyeliner whilst Jean-Paul Belmondo is all rebellious swagger. As the film’s antihero Michel Poiccard, he’s unscrupulous through and through, but definitely not without charm.

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A small time thief who nonchalantly kills a cop who pursues him, he just as casually hits a man and hides him in a bathroom stall without blinking an eyelid. Michel is one smooth bastard, yet somehow she gains the affection of Patricia Franchini, an American journalism student he’d met up in Nice a few weeks earlier. Their first meeting as she’s selling newspaper is infused with so much style. C’est magnifique!

There’s such a relaxed, leisurely tone to the movie that fits the message that celebrates freedom and independence. It’s apparent in their conversation and action of the leads how much they value their liberty. Some people might find this movie boring, especially the scene in Patricia’s flat where they spend 20+ minutes simply talking, and Michel trying to get under her skirt, but not much happens. Yet I’m quite enthralled by it all, there’s a certain charm in the forthright conversation between them despite its unabashed crudeness. Michel’s vulgarity and persistence in getting her to bed is contrasted by Patricia’s almost childlike innocence. She somehow remains unaffected by his mercurial mood and she has such a sweet way of rebuffing his advances.

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I find Michel’s utter ignorance and lack of culture quite hilarious.

Patricia: Do you know William Faulkner?
Michel: No. Who’s he? Have you slept with him?

I read later how this film became the quintessential film of the French New Wave, which is described in Wiki as having a documentary-style format, feature existential theme laden with irony and sarcasm. It’s clearly a risky move back then to create a film like this. Per IMDb trivia, its star “[Belmondo] was very surprised by the warm reception the film received. Immediately after production he was convinced it was so bad that he thought the film would never be released.” I don’t think even Godard or Truffaut would be so well-received, nor would they predict the film would become such a pop culture icon. I’ve been reading some articles on this that cite how influential Godard’s debut is even to this day.

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Visually the film is truly a work of art. Nearly every frame is like a postcard of Paris. It’s an amazing feat given the low budget. Apparently Godard couldn’t afford a dolly at the time, so he pushed cinematographer Raoul Coutard around in a wheelchair through many scenes of the film. I love how in many scenes I felt like I’m viewing the city through the eyes of the characters, strolling pass Paris landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysées and café terraces. I especially love the scenes as they’re driving, whether with the top down in a Cabriolet or inside a Taxi like this scene below:

I found this photo of Coutard filming on a rooftop and clearly that’s how we get the sweeping view of the magnificent city. There are also the intriguing hand-held shots roaming a room, street, elevator, etc. that gives us a sense of realism.

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I really enjoyed this one and even re-watched parts of it just before I published this review, the scene of the two leads in bed and the finale. Yes it’s perhaps simplistic narratively but Godard more than made up for it in style. This is one of those films I can see myself revisiting again later in the future and it’ll always make me reminisce about Paris. The jazzy music by Martial Solal complements it perfectly, sometimes the music even takes center stage, some scenes play out like a fashionable music video. It’s no surprise this movie’s been remade and Hollywoodized in 1983. I have no desire in seeing that one however, surely it could barely hold a candle to this original version.

Well, it’s been over a half a century since the film’s release and it’s only just my first intro into Godard’s work. I suppose better late than never, right? I’m curious to check out his other films, so if you have recommendations as to which ones I should watch next, do let me know!

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The Blind Spot series was originally spearheaded by Ryan at The Matinee, and I was also inspired by Dan’s list at Public Transportation Snob.

2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Breathless? Well, what did YOU think?